Children's heart surgery: Edwin Poots to meet Irish minister
Health minister Edwin Poots is to discuss the future of children's heart services when he meets his counterpart in the Irish republic on Wednesday.
Edwin Poots was speaking during a debate on the future of children's heart surgery in Belfast.
A report has said that while safe, the service at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children is no longer sustainable.
It said children who require surgery should now travel to Dublin.
On Tuesday, the chair of the health committee, Sue Ramsey, called on the minister to listen to the voices of younger people just as he had listened to the voices of older people last week.
"Vulnerable voices were heard last week. You've listened to them, you've took it on the chin, you've had a bloody nose all week," she said.
"Let's ensure that the vulnerable voices of our future, of the next generation that they're heard and their parents are heard."
Mr Poots told members he did not want to go down the route proposed by the Health and Social Care Board, which advised the ending of paediatric cardiac surgery in Belfast and the transfer of the service to Dublin.
The minister outlined a possible two-centre alternative but said it would depend on the agreement of his southern counterpart.
Mr Poots said: "There aren't any easy solutions here.
"It's hugely challenging and it is not easy to square this particular circle."
"The one option that parents want to see is an option where surgical care is provided in Belfast.
"I cannot stand before this house and say I can deliver that but I will honestly stand before the house and tell you that I will give it my best shot."
The minister said he believed parents in Donegal would prefer to have their children travel to Belfast for surgery.
"I don't wish to raise false expectations," he said.
The assembly later passed a motion calling for the retention of the surgery in Belfast.
The minister's decision on the future location of paediatric surgery is imminent
For the past 12 months parents and members of the Children's Heartbeat Trust have campaigned vigorously for the retention of children's heart surgery in Northern Ireland.
Last year, a national report said that such centres across the United Kingdom must perform a minimum of 400 children's surgical procedures each year.
Belfast currently falls short of that number.
A working group recommended an all-island service.
Children who require surgery will be expected to travel to Our Lady's Children's hospital in Crumlin, south Dublin.
Birmingham was also been cited as an option.
Approval of the recommendation by health ministers in Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic is expected to be a formality.